Luther Allison

Luther Allison
Songs From the Road

Ruf CD & DVD

By Art Tipaldi
February 2010

My last memory of Luther Allison was on the night of Friday, June 13, 1997. I had driven an hour and a half to see him in New Hampshire and when we hugged goodbye and shook hands, his sweet cologne accompanied me on the car ride home.

During that ride I thought of the three times I’d seen him perform that week, and how many times I was part of Luther’s magic throughout the years. A month later he was diagnosed with the disease that, by August, would rob the world of a wonderful and gracious man.

Lucky for us, Luther’s performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 4th, 1997, was recorded and filmed. It was one of his last shows as six days later, on July 10th, Luther was handed that devastating news. Yet, he still took the stage that night for his final show in Madison, Wisconsin.

The eighty minutes of music on Songs From the Road includes eleven Luther standouts like “Cherry Red Wine,” his 1996 Song of the Year, “Serious,” “Will It Ever Change,” and “Move From The Hood,” his personal calls to social activism. Whether with stinging slide, piercing single note runs or blazing string attacks, Allison possessed the touch that married gospel and blues with rock and soul.

Because The DVD show was edited down to fifty-six minutes to fit Montreal television, it showcases seven of Luther’s most energetic tunes from the CD. By the second song, “Livin’ In The House Of Blues,” Luther’s begun sweatin’. By the fourth song, “Cherry Red Wine,” you’d need to get a towel to dry his face. By the time he voices “Move From the Hood,” Luther’s solos flow forth like molten lava. As you watch and listen, Luther jumps off the screen and captures you in his intimate trance.

It is a truly amazing performance from a man with only a month to live.

There are musicians who can allow each member of the audience the privilege to enter into the spontaneous, creative process. Luther discovered the rare ability that empowered any spectators willing to join his musical spirit. His intimately passionate performances were as physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining for audience members as for the sweat drenched Allison. He could permit every patron to become one with the messages of his soul, which moved effortlessly between reception of stimuli and conversion into pure, raw, emotional music. For that reason, every Luther performance has been the most draining experience I’ve ever endured.

His final message to us all was “Leave your ego, play the music, love the people.” We need to remember how warm his heart was to all. We need to remember he saw only people, no color difference. We need to live our lives and conduct our affairs remembering his final words.

Thomas Ruf, Luther’s dear friend and owner of Ruf Records, sums up the loss best, “The Blues lost a true hero. Luther had the unique ability to pull new fans in to the blues.”

Whenever I left a Luther show, I wished I could see the experience over and over again. Songs From The Road is the ultimate celebration of Luther Allison’s powerful message to the world.

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